‘A native of Warsaw, a Pole at heart, with the talent of a world citizen.’
Cyprian Kamil Norwid
For the first half of his 39 years, Fryderyk Chopin was associated with Warsaw. It was in Warsaw that he studied music, where he was formally educated, and where his heart found its final resting place.
He was born on March 1, 1810 in Żelazowa Wola; however, in the registry book of the Brochów church parish where he was baptised, February 22 is the date given. The date of March 1 suggests that his mother may have been vague about his birthday, and yet it cannot be denied that she knew best when she bore a son.
In autumn 1810, the Chopin family moved permanently to Warsaw. The move to the capital was undertaken so that Fryderyk’s father could take up a post as a French teacher at the Warsaw Lyceum.
Józefa Kościelska nee Wodzińska (she was Maria Wodzińska’s sister, and Maria was engaged to Chopin at one time), remembers the Chopin family in this way:
‘The house (...) was purely Polish, thanks to Mrs. Justyna Chopin nee Krzyżanowska. Mikołaj Chopin, though he was a Frenchman, spoke Polish very properly, very grammatically, though naturally with a French accent, which he never fully lost. (…) In addition to Fryderyk, who was already a master at playing the piano, his older sister Ludwika also played beautifully on the instrument’.
Chopin began studying the piano at the age of six. His first teacher was pianist and composer Wojciech Żywny, who realized very quickly that he was dealing with an exceptional talent. Fryderyk tried to compose his own music before the age of eight, and as a true child prodigy, he performed in the salons of the Warsaw aristocracy and at charity concerts.
After graduating from the Warsaw Lyceum in 1826, Fryderyk entered the Warsaw Main School of Music, and took a class on composition from Józef Elsner. Upon his graduation, Elsner wrote on his final report: ‘amazing aptitude, a musical genius’.
The last time Chopin played a concert in Warsaw was in October of 1830, at the National Theatre. On November 2, 1830, he went to Vienna; it was there that he first heard about the November Uprising in Poland. At the insistence of his family, who were deeply concerned about his poor health, Chopin stayed in Vienna. In the autumn of 1831, he moved to Paris and that he where he remained until his death. He died on October 17, 1849 and was buried at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. His heart, however, came back to Warsaw – it was his most fervent desire to have his heart buried here – and it is in Holy Cross Church (kościół św. Krzyża) on Krakowskie Przedmieście Street.